Aim Zero’s Yeti 1500X is the most effective solar generator for most individuals – Enter

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Goal Zero introduced its second-generation lithium power stations back in January of last year, and when the company asked if I wanted to put its mid-tier model, the Yeti Lithium 1500X, through its paces, I was excited to give it a try.

After all, I was a long-time owner of the company’s first-generation Yeti Lithium 1,000, and that thing kicked serious ass. It allowed me to keep working while I drove across the U.S., living out of my car while I bounced between national parks. It was great, but it wasn’t perfect.

There’s a Yeti Lithium 1,000 in there.Evan Rodgers

But before we get into Goal Zero’s new 1500X, why would you want a 50-pound lithium battery in the first place? It turns out that a growing number of people are asking themselves that question, as searches for “solar generators,” “home batteries,” and “portable power stations,” are on the rise. No matter what you call them, the popularity of these devices is steadily climbing.

Google Trends data for “solar generators” (blue), “home batteries” (red), and “portable power stations” (yellow) over a 5-year time period.

Goal Zero, for its part, has been making these power stations since 2010. The company has historically positioned itself as an outdoor equipment company — think stuff that you’d find at REI. Over the years it’s created high-tech products for people doing fun stuff like off-roading in the desert, camping (or glamping, depending on how salty you want to be), boating, and so on and so forth.

Unfortunately, we now live in a time of multiple, concurrent crises, and many of us in the United States have found ourselves in the position of needing Goal Zero’s products for survival. People on the west coast are still, to this day, experiencing blackouts because of last year’s wildfires. A record number of hurricanes took out power around the country. For these reasons, and the overall growth of the outdoor gear market, Goal’s Zero’s sales were up 100 percent in 2020.

Luckily there is another, much less depressing use case for these large lithium batteries: small off-grid applications. Goal Zero’s larger models, like the 3000X and 6000X, can be directly attached to a structure’s breaker box to provide backup power or primary power (via solar) if the load is light enough. You can attach the 1500X to your mains, too, but as we’ll see in a moment, its capacity is a little on the small side for that.

The specs:

  • Capacity: 1,516 watt-hours
  • Lifecycle: 500 cycles to 80 percent
  • AC inverter: 2,000 watts continuous, 3,500 watts surge
  • Max input: 600 watts
  • Weight: 45 lbs

I know what you’re thinking: $1,999.95 is a lot of money. But the big number in lithium batteries is dollars-per-watt-hour, and Goal Zero’s 1500X clocks in a $1.32-per-watt-hour (without taking sales tax into account.) The last lithium power station I reviewed, the Anker Powerhouse II 400, was slightly better at $1.02 / Wh. The Bluetti AC200P, a recent Goal Zero competitor, can be had at $0.99 / Wh.

As you can see, you can get more battery for your dollar, but the devil is very much in the details with these products. Bluetti, for example, doesn’t have a convenient home integration kit like Goal Zero does, though you could still make it work if you know what you’re doing and don’t mind a little DIY.

CAPACITY

But first, let’s talk about capacity. What is a watt-hour? Let me use an example to explain: If you have a 500 watt space heater, it will drain your 1,500 watt-hour (Wh) battery in three hours. Put another way, your 1,500 Wh battery can provide 1,500 watts of power for one hour, or one watt of power for 1,500 hours.

This concept is helpful, but let’s make it more concrete: Goal Zero’s website says that the 1500X could, for example, run a full-sized refrigerator for 28 hours, or a 42-inch TV for 15 hours, or a CPAP machine for 24 hours, or a circular saw for one straight hour, though I’m not sure that’s advisable.

Your home appliances suck down a lot more juice than you probably realize.

This is where expectation meets the hard truth of reality, which is that your home appliances suck down a lot more juice than you probably realize. The 1500X is not, unfortunately, powerful enough to serve as backup power for your modern lifestyle for several days at a time. For that you would need Goal Zero’s massive Yeti Lithium 6000X, which provides 6,000 Wh of power for a gnarly $4,999.95. The price is wild, but it’s actually Goal Zero’s most affordable unit in terms of price-per-watt-hours at $0.83 / Wh.

That said, there are ways to expand a Yeti, some official, some not-so-official, and Goal Zero should be commended for putting the same great electronics in the 1500X as their higher-end, much more expensive models.

DISCHARGE

Speaking of electronics, there’s a lot more to a battery than how much power it holds. A lot more, actually. On my original Yeti Lithium 1,000 I had three options for getting power out of the unit: regular USB, 12v DC, and AC power from the inverter.

On the 1500X, Goal Zero added a USB-C PD port for charging a laptop (or any other USB-C accessory), and this is huge. On my Yeti 1,000, I had to use a USB-C PD car charger, or worse, the AC adapter, to charge my laptop.

For USB charging, you get one USB-C PD port, two USB-A ports, and one USB-C QC port.

Why is this bad? Well, converting power from DC (which is how all lithium batteries store energy) to AC through the device’s inverter, then back into DC through a laptop power brick is incredibly inefficient. Now, on the 1500X, you can just charge your laptop by plugging it straight in.

The Yeti 1500X happily charging a 13-inch MacBook Pro.

Speaking of AC, Goal Zero has made a notable improvement over its last model which could only produce 1,500 watts of AC power continuously and up to 3,000 watts during surge. This was plenty for small appliances, but only just enough for power tools. On the new 1500X, you can pull 2,000 watts continuously with a surge capacity of 3,500 watts. This gives you some much-needed breathing room, though some power tools like giant miter saws might still give you trouble.

But before we move on, I do want to pause here and note that the power tool angle is a pretty sick use case for the 1500X. Yes, it is a little pricey in this context, but if you have a larger-sized shop, having a mobile power unit that you can move around with your tools is just really handy.

If you have a larger-sized shop, having a mobile power unit that you can move around with your tools is just really handy.

Now let’s talk about the 12v ports. Regular homeowners might look at these and wonder what they’re even for, but if you’re building a camper van or a boat, this will be your bread and butter. In my pseudo-camper-van build, I powered my mobile fridge, my lights, my laptop (as described above with the USB-C PD car adapter), and a cell booster, among other things, all from the 12v ports on the Yeti 1000.

On the 1500X you can output more 12v power (30A vs 10A), and that power is now regulated, which is important for some 12v appliances, specifically 12v fridges. This was frankly an oversight on the original Yeti 1,000, but it’s great that Goal Zero has addressed the issue on the 1500X.

CHARGING

Charging is another area where, at first glance, you might think there’s not much to talk about, but my goodness, there is.

When I was using my original Yeti in my car to power everything, I had four 100 watt solar panels on the roof constantly recharging the whole system. In practice, this meant that I had 400 watts coming in, and during the day, while I was working, my laptop was pulling about 65 watts. Then there were all the other odds and ends pulling power, and when all was said and done, I probably only had around 100 watts or so “charging” the Yeti.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but this system was actually pretty well balanced, because the old Yeti 1,000 could only bring in a maximum of 400-ish watts, regardless of how many solar panels I had on my roof.

On both the old Yeti and the new Yeti Lithium 1500X, the charge controller has a maximum wattage, and this has a big downstream impact on how much you can output. Thankfully, Goal Zero has upped the input wattage to 600 watts on the 1500X, and this is meaningful for people using the unit for off-grid solar applications, van and boat builds, as well as pseudo-uninterruptible-power-supply use cases. More wattage coming in, either from solar or the wall, means more continuous output without hitting zero.

The Yeti 1500X’s maximum input wattage is, indeed, 600 watts.

Back in 2018, when I was still rocking my older Yeti, I would have finished this section here. But now Goal Zero has some real competition from that Bluetti unit I mentioned earlier; the AC200P. Both Goal Zero’s 1500X and the Bluetti have similar AC output abilities (around 2,000 continuous watts, though the Bluetti has a much higher 4,800 watt surge capacity), but the Bluetti has two separate charge controllers; one for solar, and one for the wall adapter.

The Bluetti can handle up to 700 watts of solar input compared to the Goal Zero’s 600 watt input, so the difference there is small, but it can also pull in 400 watts from its wall adapter, which the Goal Zero simply can’t.

This will become more important when we talk about expansion below, but I should also mention that Goal Zero packs in a rather wimpy 120 watt AC adapter for charging the unit from the wall, and this is okay if you’re using the 1500X for backup power, but for the same price Bluetti gives you a 400 watt charger. Goal Zero has fast chargers, but you have to buy them separately, and they’re pretty pricey.

EXPANSION

I can tell you from experience that, no matter how much battery capacity you have, it’s really never enough. There are always more things you could power, and as such, it’s useful to be able to expand a battery pack like the Yeti 1500X considering how much they cost.

Like many premium consumer product companies, Goal Zero really wants you to stay within its ecosystem. To do that, you have to use Goal Zero’s proprietary Expansion Kit, which uses lead-acid batteries. With the price of lithium cells falling sharply in recent years, I found it baffling that the company would use such an old technology. I was able to speak to a company representative about this, and they told me it simply came down to price. They said that both the controller electronics needed to handle lithium expansion, and the price of the cells themselves, would have just elevated the cost too far for most people.

No matter how much battery capacity you have, it’s really never enough.

The representative did acknowledge that lithium prices are falling quickly, so even though they insisted that the company is happy with its lead-acid expansion options right now, Goal Zero would consider lithium expansion in future models.

All this does stack up in my mind — regular people who walk into an REI looking for a solar generator are probably not too concerned about the low power density of lead-acid batteries, if they even want to expand their batteries at all.

But here you are, reading a 2,500 word review about a solar generator. I know what you want. So I’m happy to report that, where there’s a will, there’s a way. You can “expand” your Yeti with lithium batteries in a roundabout sort of way, though not officially, and it might void your warranty. An electrical engineer from the company informed me that, as long as the power flowing into the Yeti matched the profile of electricity coming from one of the company’s fast chargers, it would probably be fine.

I just so happened to have some 36 volt lithium batteries on hand from another project I’m working on, and they charged up the Goal Zero without a hiccup. If you’re doing this you might want to use a constant-current, constant-voltage “boost” converter to stabilize the power flowing through, especially if you plan on using this for more than just a couple of hours of testing like I did.

If you’re still reading this but have no idea what the heck I’m talking about, no worries — that’s exactly why Goal Zero doesn’t make expansion a huge priority.

LIFESPAN

There is one spec that may have caught your attention at the top, and that’s cycle life. Goal Zero only rates its power stations at 500 cycles to 80 percent capacity, and on paper that doesn’t seem like very much.

There are a couple of things to understand here, the first being that Goal Zero is using “NMC” chemistry cells, which is the same chemistry used in a bunch of electric cars. This is basically “vanilla” lithium-ion chemistry, and while each chemistry has its pros and cons, NMC is more geared toward high-current applications rather than long cycle life.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the Yeti 1500X won’t be a long-lasting product, though. What the company means by “500 cycles to 80 percent capacity” is that, after 500 full charges and discharges, the battery will have 80 percent capacity left. I spoke to Goal Zero representatives about this, too, and they assured me this estimate was conservative, and that most users could expect “10+” years of service if they didn’t use their units too hard.

What about people that do plan on using their solar generator quite hard?

That seems totally reasonable, but what about people that do plan on using their solar generator quite hard? Maybe you’re thinking about doing a van build like I did, where I did cycle the battery fully every day, then charged it back up with solar?

In that case you might want to think about Bluetti’s AC200P, which uses a LifePo4 chemistry that is designed for high cycle life. The company quotes the AC200P’s cycle life at “3500+” which is quite a bit more, but there are tradeoffs. The AC200P is significantly larger than the Yeti 1500X, and probably much heavier as well.

Should you buy it?

As you can probably tell, I have a pretty positive outlook on Goal Zero products despite the fact that there are batteries with longer lifespans, more capacity, and more versatile charging and discharging options. This is because Goal Zero’s engineers have made these things absolutely bulletproof. I shorted out my old Yeti 1,000 more times than I care to admit and it bounced back without missing a beat. I pushed mine hard in the middle of the desert in greater than 100-degree heat and it never let me down.

The Goal Zero worked great even here, with extreme cold and heat swings.

The new 1500X continues that legacy and improves upon it. You get more capacity, more inverter power, handy conveniences like the USB-C PD port, and Goal Zero’s trademark overengineering. Oh, also, really good customer service. If you have a problem you can call Goal Zero and someone will actually answer the phone.

More boutique options like the Bluetti are great, but they do have problems, though I’m sure power users like me will be far more willing to navigate those problematic corner cases. A Goal Zero product is not like that — it may not do everything, but what it does do, it does with extreme reliability.

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